How does one measure success? Truth is, there no simple answer, as the yardstick might be different from one person to the next. But one author said it simply, what most successful people agree on, when he said, “just do what you love and believe in, and it (success) will come naturally.” This is the same dictum that Roberto Juanchito “Jojo” Dispo swears by, and one that had gotten him to stellar heights in his career. Dispo is the president of First Metro Investment Corp. (FMIC), the investment banking arm of the Metrobank Group. He was recently declared Global Filipino Executive of the Year at the 5th Asia CEO Awards held in November at The Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila. The prestigious award is his most recent, on top of the other ones he had gotten through the years.
According to the organizers of the Asia CEO Awards, Dispo was chosen for his invaluable contributions in the development of the Philippine capital markets, including the savings mobilization program of the government, as well as innovative financial products such as the Retail Treasury Bonds, Multi-Currency OFW Bonds, ADB Peso Bonds and the On-shore Dollar Bonds. He is also credited with the introduction of the country’s first exchange-traded fund, the First Metro ETF, which is now one of the top performing equity-asset funds in the market.
Dispo joined First Metro in 1998 and rose through the ranks to become president in 2011. This investment arm of Metrobank– which celebrated its 50 years in 2013, traces its inception to humble beginnings when it was formally registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as First Invest Development Corp. in 1972. The company began operations as an investment house, with quasi-banking functions in May 1974, where Metrobank changed the company’s name to First Metro Investment Corp. In 2001, Metrobank acquired publicly-listed Solidbank through a merger, and the listed status went to First Metro, which resulted to FMIC being automatically listed in the Philippine Stock Exchange.
Today, First Metro is the biggest and most profitable investment bank in the country, where Dispo proudly states that “we account for 70-percent of all capital market deals, covering equity, debt, IPOs, mergers and acquisitions and project financing.” Currently, Dispo holds a number of positions within the Metrobank Group. Apart from being a member of the Advisory Board of Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company, he is also chairman of First Metro Securities Brokerage Corp. , as well as vice chairman of First Metro Asset Management, Inc., and a member of the board of the insurance company AXA Philippines.
Upon meeting him, the charming and extrovert president of First Metro has the ability to immediately impress with his “wikipedia-like” wealth of knowledge of the Philippine capital markets and how it has evolved throughout the years. He says this is no longer the Philippines that he knew more than 15 years back. “I was then with the government during the Cory and FVR years, and this is a totally different Philippines. We’ve been upgraded to investment grade, our gross international reserves now stand at $80 billion, whereas when I was still with government, the GIR was just about $5 billion.” He added that “Philippines is in the cusp of greater growth in terms of economic progress, spurred by the BPOs/call centers and OFW remittances, which are the twin engines of growth.”
But while he is mostly known in the world of Philippine finance, Dispo reveals he started in a totally disparate field, through the Department of National Defense. It was right after the Edsa Revolution of 1986, he says that there was a call from the new government then for “idealists and young graduates that can populate government so change can be effected,” and he responded to the call. In particular, he says he was under the DND Training Institute, where they trained both soldiers and civilians alike to be “loyal to the country, rather than to certain military individuals.” After a while, Dispo moved to the Department of Trade and Industry to pursue his real passion, which is the world of finance. He also served at the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, where his last post was deputy treasurer of the Philippines, with the rank of Assistant Secretary. He was also responsible for establishing the Geneva-based World Association of Debt Management Offices (WADMO) under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which now has 44 member countries.
While his main passion is finance, Dispo says his other passion is cooking. “I love cooking,” he says, and he tries his hand in trying out different menus. “Recently I perfected cooking Hainanese chicken, he declares in a broad smile, and I’m dreaming of putting up my own restaurant. In fact, I have already registered my business name for my future endeavor in restaurant and food business, called ‘The Picnic Basket’, because it aims to bring back the tradition of Filipino families’ love for picnic, going out and eating together.” With a sparkle in his eye, he says he plans to grow this new business “like the big bank approach, opening in key regional centers.” He hopes to open in 2015.
In the end he says, no matter what business or career one gets into, he recommends doing some public service by entering government during the early stages in their career, or before going into business. “Public service intrinsically teaches you passion and love for country. And when you move to the private sector, where everything is measured by profit, it may distract you from the real meaning of work, which is making a difference, so what you’ve done as a CEO or officer of the company, all redounds to the benefit of the economy and your country, and of course, your love for God.”